Prostasia Foundation Protecting children by upholding the rights and freedoms of all
A message from our Executive Director

Why do we welcome people who are sexually stigmatized as allies in our mission of child sexual abuse prevention? Aren't they more of a liability than an asset, if we want to convince politicians and companies to give us their support?

This is a question we get asked a lot. The short answer is we don't treat people as assets or liabilities, we treat them as human beings. We won't dehumanize or scapegoat anyone for the sake of our boosting our popularity with donors, and when we see the human rights of anyone being infringed in the name of child protection, we are here to stand up for them.

Our original formation was prompted by the law FOSTA, which sacrifices the rights of sex workers on the faith of a promise that censoring online speech about sex work will put a dent in sex trafficking. (Spoiler: it doesn't.) We're in that same place again with the EARN IT Act today, which if passed will harm an even broader range of people, by forcing Internet companies to build their platforms to be less secure and private for everybody.

Prostasia Foundation is the only child protection organization that welcomes anyone who can accept our values as allies in our mission against such repression. Because suffering harm from stigma is something that many of our allies have in common, they have a dual interest in combating it. First, the interests in upholding the human rights of their own community. Second, the knowledge that stigma also harms children, by making prevention harder.

This is why it is no "gotcha" when someone points out that a member of our Advisory Council is LGBTQ+, or a sex worker, or kinky, or a survivor, or draws taboo art, or has experience of the criminal justice system. Whatever you think disqualifies them from being involved with us, is probably one of the very reasons why they are there. We invite representation from each of the communities that are affected when "think of the children" goes wrong.

Because of this, all sorts of people have seized our vision and become allies under our Board's leadership, in our shared mission to promote an evidence-based and human rights centered approach towards the prevention of child sexual abuse. This approach is incompatible with the stigma that some other groups depend on to please their donors. And honestly, we're fine with that.

We know that it fires people up when we challenge their stereotypes, and point out the harms of stigma. But we are convinced that open and accurate communication about this problem is essential. We will never eliminate child sexual abuse if we shrink from talking about it accurately. Child sexual abuse is a human problem. And human problems are never solved through dehumanization.

However, in part because we won't sacrifice our principles, Prostasia Foundation has yet to find a major donor willing to stand behind our vision for the organization. We do have three strong proposals for funding on the table, which you can read about below. But if we don't get any of them funded, they will be the last under our current Executive team.

I'm not giving up on Prostasia. In fact, I have more confidence in it now than ever. Getting people to embrace its challenging but important message has been my ultimate stretch as a policy advocate. And it has worked—the tide is turning—but it is turning slowly. In the meantime, I also have to be responsible to my own children. That means being able to accept that where Prostasia is right now, isn't where I need it to be personally.

Therefore if I fail to rally donors behind any of our current proposals, I will be asking the Board to accept my resignation and to seek someone who can do better at convincing the philanthropic community to support our vital work.

What will it mean for Prostasia Foundation going forward if I step down as Executive Director? It will give others the opportunity to step up, and we are already preparing for a more decentralized approach to updating our blog, podcast, newsletter, and social media. Not having a full-time volunteer may mean that they are updated less frequently, but rest assured that Prostasia Foundation will not be going away.

Rising to the challenge of prevention

In our last Annual Report, we set a goal for this year to raise at least $100,000 in grants from charitable foundations. That wasn't an arbitrary goal: it's what we need if we are to be able to embark on at least some important projects that will cost money to implement, and that will take us to the next level as an organization with some paid staff.

We can't show you our current grant proposals yet, or tell you who is currently considering them. But here are brief descriptions of the three current proposals that we have the best hopes for:

1. Eliminating unlawful sexual images of minors without censorship

Curbing access to unlawful sexual images or minors without relying on mass surveillance and censorship is the holy grail for human rights defenders working on child sexual abuse prevention. Two years of evidence-based and compassionate advocacy, led by a diverse team of world-leading independent experts, have placed Prostasia Foundation in a unique position to offer a package of sustainable solutions to bring this elusive goal within reach.

By hosting a professionally-supervised peer-support forum for populations at high risk of image-based offending against minors, and developing new clinical research into whether legal outlets could divert this population from such offending, we will deliver a prevention action plan that avoids the need for blanket measures that would infringe the privacy and freedom of expression of others.

2. Building a new alliance for child sexual abuse prevention

Through primary research, community building, and public advocacy, Prostasia Foundation and a university research partner will gather evidence to support a model of child sexual abuse prevention that we will popularize as an alternative to the approach of censorship and surveillance that underpins the proposed EARN IT Act. By building support for this model from a diverse alliance of partners, we will undermine the false narrative that technology companies who do not fall in line behind the government’s approach are failing children.

The scientific component of our work program involves research and clinical work to develop and evaluate effective treatment and support solutions for those who admit to a sexual attraction towards minors, and for research into the etiology of that attraction, with the objective of preventing child sexual abuse within that population. The advocacy component of our work will build stakeholder support for and these (and other) research and clinical prevention projects, while simultaneously developing research outputs that highlight the costs of an approach that is based around censorship and surveillance, especially as experienced by marginalized social groups.

3. Sharing narratives of healthy masculinity to prevent men’s violence against women

This project is an innovative public health and movement-building program which creates public spaces for collective dialogue on masculinities, promotes gender-equitable attitudes and practices, and aims to dismantle the notion that there is one correct—and often harm-fostering—way to “be a man.” It engages groups of diverse men in creating public events where they share candid, personal narratives about masculinity as it relates to their own experiences with relationships, violence, privilege and oppression, other intersectional identities (e.g., race, sexual orientation), and other topics.

The goal of developing these narratives is to challenge the harmful gender norms that give rise to men’s sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violence, and to promote healthier expressions of masculinity that will ultimately reduce men’s violence against women and girls.

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Nominations open!
Nominations open!
Who has made a big difference in the fight to protect children from sexual harm, while also upholding human rights and sex-positivity?

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Review: Jag är pedofil (I'm a pedophile)

In our last podcast episode, we spoke to researcher Christoffer Rahm about a new pharmaceutical treatment that his team at Sweden's Karolinska Institute have developed that could be used to reduce distress and lower risk of offending among people with pedophilic disorder (a condition that affects some people with pedophilia and puts them at an elevated risk of offending). By chance, he mentioned that he had also consulted to the director of a short film that had been recently premiered at the Göteborg Film Festival. He offered to put us in touch with the Director, who sent us a copy of her film for review. Its title? "I'm a pedophile." 

One watches this movie with some expectations from the title alone. Films such as this attract a very critical eye from those who would like to accuse them of being a vehicle for dangerous ideas. (We reviewed one such film in our March newsletter.) These accusations are rarely justified, and certainly not so in the case of director of this film, Johanna Ställberg, who told us, "I myself have two children and the idea of pedophiles is the worst I can imagine. The idea of the short film was came up when I tried rationally to think of what the best thing for a society to do in order to best handle the situation with pedophiles. I concluded that the best would be to create a situation where we could talk about it more openly."

Thus, her film is a serious and frank examination of what happens when those directly affected by this problem do attempt to talk openly about it: it's the coming out story of a troubled minor-attracted man to his brother and sister. His sister has two young daughters, and his discomfort around them is the first sign that something is up. It hardly amounts to spoiling the film to say that his coming out doesn't go entirely smoothly.

At 17 minutes, the film is only a short, and its runtime doesn't allow for a fully satisfying resolution to the family's understandable conflict. We asked Ställberg if she had any plans to expand the film into a feature. She replied:

"I have started work on writing a feature version of I'm a Pedophile, in which I expect to give more answers and keys on how complicated the situation as a pedophile can be. There are both advantages and disadvantages to expanding this story and the way my story looks now, it does not end happily. (Depending on how you see it). And I think the "happy ending" of this story is that we all start to talk about it outside the film."

The film illustrates in a very moving way why talking about pedophilia openly is so difficult, but also demonstrates what an enormous obstacle this creates for help-seeking, as well as its generally dire effects on mental wellness—even for someone who has never offended and whose condition is being managed professionally. If you find discussion of self-harm triggering, you should be aware that such discussion does occur in this film.

The stigma around discussing this topic also affected Ställberg's casting of the film. She told us:

"Of course, it was delicate who would play the pedophile and what children to cast for the film. I had Olle Sarri as a guest in my podcast and during a break there we talked about I'm a Pedophile. Olle, who is both an incredibly intelligent and brave actor, really thought that the movie should be made and I asked a little cautiously if he could imagine that role. He said yes. Afterwards he told me that he felt great doubts on his way to set as it was such a heavy role. But now we are both happy about a fantastic collaboration and  that the film became as we imagined. Regarding the children, both my girls, Lotta and Tina Ställberg, are in the film. And my husband felt fine about that."

Filmmakers face a lot of difficulty in creating realistic depictions of pedophiles, because most of us still know so little about them. Even researchers are still trying to learn more, and Prostasia Foundation is supporting them in that. This is such an important problem to understand that we are obligated to study it, even in spite of the stigma that follows those who do so. Ställberg made a few changes to her screenplay on the advice of Dr Rahm, and as a result her film does seem like a true-to-life depiction of the coming out experience of a minor-attracted character who also exhibits other (perhaps associated) mental health problems.

Ställberg told us, "I hope that the viewers get an insight that pedophilia is an undesirable condition for most pedophiles. And that we must be able to talk about it in order for those who feel that way to seek help. In a larger perspective, this little story is about trying  to understand, dare to look more closely at what you are afraid of."

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Prostasia Foundation
18 Bartol Street #995, San Francisco, CA 94133
EIN 82-4969920
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